ELM Revision: Employee Assistance Program

Effective immediately, the Employee and Labor Rela­tions Manual (ELM), subchapter 870, Employee Assistance Program, is revised to update Postal Service™ procedures.

Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM)

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8 Safety, Health, and Environment

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870 Employee Assistance Program

[Revise 870 as follows:]

871 Introduction

871.1 Purpose

871.11 General

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a formal, volun­tary, non-disciplinary program designed to assist employ­ees and their immediate families in their efforts to resolve personal issues that may impact adversely on work perfor­mance, personal well-being, or both. Issues may include, but are not limited to: (a) substance abuse; (b) mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress; and (c) issues that involve family, marital, financial, and legal concerns. Assistance is provided through consultation, evaluation, counseling, and referral to community resources and treatment facilities.

871.12 Substance Abuse, Dependence, and Other Addictions

Substance abuse, dependence, and other addictions are serious health problems that can adversely affect an employee’s job performance and personal life. EAP contin­ues the Postal Service’s obligation under its collective bar­gaining agreements to provide a program for employees with these problems. EAP is not intended to alter or amend any of the rights or responsibilities of the Postal Service or its employees.

871.2 Definitions

Special terms used in this subchapter include the following:

a. EAP counselor — external EAP counselors must have: (1) a master’s or doctorate degree from an ac­credited college or university recognized by the rele­vant professional association in a clinical mental health field; and (2) a current state license or state certification to practice as a mental health practitio­ner. External EAP counselors must also meet any other requirements of the relevant interagency agree­ment or contract.

Note: These requirements do not uniformly apply to the Joint Committee Employee Assistance Programs using internal counselors (see Occupation Codes 01804018, 01804019, and 01804020).

b. External EAP service provider — an individual or group external to the Postal Service that provides EAP services through an interagency agreement or on a contractual basis.

c. Family member — any legal dependent of the em­ployee, or anyone living in the employee’s household, with the exception of tenants or employees of the Postal Service employee who live in the household.

d. Internal EAP — an employee assistance program whose counselors are employed by the Postal Ser­vice.

e. Management referral — the referral of an employee to EAP by a supervisor or manager because the manag­er notices behavior that may indicate work perfor­mance issues or personal problems.

f. Other addictions — not addiction to drugs or alcohol, but addictive behaviors that may include excessive gambling, eating, and Internet use as well as hyper­sexuality.

g. Other problems — problems such as depression, anxiety, gambling, and stress as well as emotional, family, marital, financial, and legal problems.

h. Self-initiated referral — an employee’s voluntary re­ferral of him- or herself for assistance from EAP, made by directly contacting an EAP counselor.

i. Substance abuse — the excessive use of a sub­stance, especially alcohol or a drug, that results in re­curring negative life consequences, such as (1) interpersonal conflicts; (2) failure to meet work, fami­ly, or school responsibilities; or (3) legal problems.

j. Substance dependence — commonly referred to as an addiction, it is characterized by: (1) a need for in­creasing amounts of a substance to maintain desired effects; (2) withdrawal symptoms if drug-taking stops; and (3) preoccupation with activities related to substance use.

871.3 Policy

871.31 Job Security

Participation in EAP is voluntary and will not jeopardize the employee’s job security or promotional opportunities.

871.32 Limits to Protection

Although an employee’s voluntary participation in EAP counseling should be given favorable consideration in dis­ciplinary action, participation in EAP does not limit man­agement’s right to proceed with any contemplated disciplinary action for failure to meet acceptable standards of work performance, attendance, or conduct. Participation in EAP does not shield an employee from discipline or from prosecution for criminal activities.

871.33 Confidentiality

Inquiries regarding participation in EAP counseling are con­fidential, pursuant to the provisions of 874.4. EAP records may not be placed in an employee’s official personnel folder (OPF).

871.34 Reasonable Access

The contractor providing counseling must endeavor to pro­vide confidential counseling facilities within a reasonable driving distance from the employee’s work site or home, in accordance with the following guidelines:

a. The Postal Service will provide office space and fur­nishings for those sites that require counselors to be in postal locations.

b. Providing ready accessibility to face-to-face EAP counseling is desirable, but may not always be pos­sible. Counselors may offer telephone counseling or request that the employee travel to the counselor’s office.

c. Reasonable hours and days, including coverage of all three tours, will be set by mutual agreement be­tween the EAP consultant and the Human Resources manager.

d. Counselors may adjust their schedules to respond to crisis situations and to meet other needs, such as providing information sessions and visiting facilities.

871.35 Scheduling

The following guidelines apply to scheduling and whether EAP sessions take place on or off the clock:

a. An employee’s first visit to EAP is on the clock, whether the visit is initiated by management, the union representative, or the employee (unless the employee prefers to visit the EAP unit on his or her own time).

b. Subsequent consultations are on the employee’s own time.

c. If a reasonable period of time has elapsed since a management referral or a previously disclosed self-referral, the manager or supervisor may, on a case-by-case basis, approve an additional on-the-clock session.

d. To receive pay for an on-the-clock session, the em­ployee must authorize the EAP provider to disclose his or her attendance to management.

872 Program Elements

872.1 Education

EAP counselors and subcontract counselors must provide information, training, or both periodically for all Postal Ser­vice employees to inform them about EAP services and the kinds of personal problems that can affect job performance or conduct.

872.2 Problem Identification, Referrals, and Evaluation

872.21 Patterns of Behavior and Work Performance Problems

Certain patterns of behavior and/or work performance can be indicative of problems affecting an employee. Deteriora­tion in attendance, appearance, conduct, ability, or any combination of these factors may signal that the employee is experiencing a personal problem that may affect his or her job performance. These problems may include depres­sion, anxiety, gambling, emotional stress, and marital prob­lems as well as substance abuse, dependence, or other addictions.

872.22 Referrals to EAP

872.221 Management Referrals

If a supervisor or manager observes any of the patterns listed in 872.21 or has some other reason to believe that EAP could provide needed assistance to an employee, he or she may refer the employee to EAP.

Since participation is voluntary, the employee has the option to refuse the referral and cannot be disciplined for noncompliance.

If an employee has signed a Last Chance or Settlement Agreement that requires EAP participation, the employee can be disciplined for noncompliance under the terms of the agreement.

872.222 Referrals From Others

Fellow employees, union representatives, management association representatives, medical personnel, family members, or judicial and social service agencies may refer employees to EAP. However, if any of these suggest or rec­ommend that the employee seek EAP assistance, partici­pation is always voluntary.

872.223 Self-Referrals

Employees who want help with any personal problem or concern are encouraged to seek assistance directly by per­sonally contacting EAP.

872.224 EAP Response

The following requirements apply:

a. EAP counselors must accept all referrals.

b. Face-to-face or telephone interview appointments must be available within a reasonable period from the time the request is made by the employee or family member.

c. Face-to-face and telephone appointments for urgent situations must be made consistent with need, re­gardless of the counselor’s regularly scheduled hours.

d. Crisis counseling must be available by telephone 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

872.23 Problem Evaluation

EAP counseling staff provide assessment services and arrange counseling for employees or family members or refer them to appropriate treatment resources.

872.3 Recovery Counseling and Resources

872.31 EAP Counseling Units

EAP units are staffed by EAP professionals trained to coun­sel and provide referral services to individuals who seek their assistance. Postal Service EAP units are not equipped to provide detoxification or drug rehabilitation assistance, but they can make referrals to outside programs and treat­ment facilities for these problems. To provide convenient, ready access to EAP counseling services for all Postal Ser­vice employees and their family members, a network of similarly qualified and capable affiliate counselors is avail­able to provide EAP counseling services at other locations.

872.32 Residential and Community Resources

EAP counseling service providers:

a. Maintain information about a variety of outside pro­grams, treatment facilities, and resources available to employees and family members.

b. Provide assistance with initial arrangements and ap­pointments.

The cost of these programs or treatment facilities is borne by the employee or by the employee’s health insurance (pursuant to terms of the policy). In cases for which hospi­talization or detoxification is recommended, the employee is responsible for requesting sick leave, leave without pay, annual leave, or advanced sick leave.

872.4 Follow-Up

872.41 Progress

If a manager or a supervisor has referred an employee to EAP counseling because of a job performance problem, that manager or supervisor shall continue to monitor the employee’s job performance.

872.42 Discontinuance of Participation

Whether an employee opts to continue or discontinue par­ticipation in EAP counseling, he or she is responsible for maintaining prescribed job performance standards.

872.43 Return to Work

If an employee is on leave from the Postal Service to par­ticipate in an outside rehabilitative program for mental health or substance abuse issues, the EAP counselor may, upon the employee’s request and authorization, monitor the course of rehabilitation and assist in any contemplated return to work.

872.5 Program Evaluation

EAP must be evaluated annually or more often, as needed. The purpose of these evaluations is to measure the effi­ciency and effectiveness of the program and to ensure that it is operating within established policy.

873 Reinstatement of Recovered Employees

873.1 Policy

873.11 Consideration of Request

Managers should give serious consideration to a request for reinstatement from a recovered employee because the experience gained during previous postal employment could be a valuable asset to the Postal Service.

873.12 Consideration of Other Factors

In reviewing reinstatement requests, local management must consider the following factors:

a. The former employee’s Postal Service work history.

b. The nature of the charges that led to removal or res­ignation.

c. The eligibility factors set forth in ELM 873.2 and in Handbook EL-312, Employment and Placement.

873.13 Exceptions to Consideration for Reinstatement

When a former employee’s record reflects a criminal con­viction or pending criminal charges, the procedures out­lined in Handbook EL-312, Chapter 5, Suitability, must be followed. In addition, exceptions to reinstatement consid­eration are made when an employee has been removed from the Postal Service for any of the following reasons:

a. Theft of mail or Postal Service property.

b. Possession or sale of drugs while on duty.

c. Fraud against the Postal Service.

d. Assaults or threats against Postal Service personnel.

873.2 Eligibility

873.21 Procedures

Reinstatement of an individual whose removal or resigna­tion from the Postal Service is related to alcoholism, dependency on drugs, or other problems may be consid­ered when the individual:

a. Submits a written request for reinstatement, accom­panied by a signed authorization to release informa­tion, indicating the employee’s written consent to a waiver of federal regulations on confidentiality re­strictions.

b. Is willing to accept reinstatement on the basis of con­tinuing to successfully participate in a course of care or activity based on an EAP counselor’s recommen­dation.

873.22 Management Responsibilities

Prior approval must be obtained before employing a former Postal Service or federal employee who:

a. Was removed from the Postal Service or other federal employment for cause; or

b. Resigned after being notified that charges proposing removal would be, or had been, issued.

Approval must be obtained from the district manager of Human Resources, the area manager of Human Resources, or the vice president of Employee Resource Management. For further information, see the Handbook EL-312, Employment and Placement, section on Handling Removals From Postal Service or Other Federal Employ­ment.

873.3 Compliance With Agreements

If a former bargaining unit employee is reinstated to a bar­gaining unit position, employing officials must comply with all relevant provisions of applicable collective bargaining agreements in determining the employee’s seniority and other contractual rights.

874 EAP Counseling Records

874.1 Restricted Information

Restricted information is information with limitations on its access within the Postal Service and its disclosure outside the Postal Service consistent with the following federal laws:

a. The Privacy Act of 1974, as amended.

b. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.

c. The Public Health Service Act of 1944, as amended (see 874.4).

874.2 Policy

Information about EAP counseling participants is restricted information, which must be held in confidence and is sub­ject to disclosure only as described in 874.4 and pursuant to the provisions of the federal laws listed in 874.1.

874.3 Custodians of Records

874.31 Postal Service Providers

When EAP services are provided by Postal Service employee counselors, counseling records are maintained by the counselor within the Privacy Act system of records, USPS 120.140, Personnel Records — Employee Assis­tance Program (EAP) Records. These records are subject to Postal Service policy and regulations, as follows:

a. Provisions of the Privacy Act as set forth in:

(1) Title 39 CFR 266, Privacy of Information.

(2) Handbook AS-353, Guide to Privacy, the Freedom of Information Act, and Records Management (including the appendix, Privacy Act System of Records).

b. Provisions of HIPAA regarding access, disclosure, amendment, and maintenance of records.

874.32 Private Providers

When EAP services are provided through an interagency agreement or a private vendor, the following requirements apply:

a. Each EAP counseling service provider is responsible for maintaining records on participants.

b. These counseling records are the property of the pri­mary provider and maintained in a system of records.

c. The primary provider must maintain policies and pro­cedures for safeguarding the confidentiality of client data and files and may be liable under the law for im­proper release of such information.

d. The primary provider agrees to assert any privilege allowed by law and to defend vigorously Postal Ser­vice and employee rights to confidentiality.

874.4 Disclosure

874.41 General

874.411 Usual Recipients

Information identifying substance abuse program partici­pants, whether or not such information is recorded, may be disclosed as follows:

a. To medical personnel to the extent necessary to meet a bona fide medical emergency involving the EAP participant.

b. To qualified personnel, with the express written au­thorization of the vice president of Employee Re­source Management, for purposes of conducting scientific research or program audits or evaluation. However, under no circumstances may any personal­ly identifiable information be disclosed in the result­ing evaluation, research, or audit reports.

c. To a court, under the following circumstances:

(1) When authorized by a court order upon showing of good cause, such as when necessary to protect against an existing threat to life or threat of bodily injury, or in connection with the investigation or prosecution of a crime.

(2) In litigation or an administrative proceeding when authorized by the trier of fact, when the EAP par­ticipant offers testimony or other evidence per­taining to the content of his or her EAP participation. Counsel should be contacted for assistance in evaluating the court order and in determining the extent to which information must be released.

d. To any person when the EAP participant gives prior written consent to disclose information. This consent specifies the nature and scope of the topics to be re­leased, to whom information is to be released, the purpose of the disclosure, and the date on which the consent terminates.

e. To a person in any situation in which the EAP coun­selor has a duty to warn.

f. To an expert, consultant, or other individual who is under contract to the Postal Service to fulfill an agen­cy function, but only to the extent necessary to fulfill that function, and in accordance with the Privacy Act restrictions of 39 CFR 266.6.

874.412 Limitation of Disclosure

In all cases cited in 874.411, only information that is abso­lutely necessary to satisfy the recipient’s business or med­ical need is to be disclosed.

874.42 Criminal Activity

874.421 EAP Records

EAP counseling records or personnel may not be used to initiate or substantiate any criminal charges against an EAP participant or to conduct any investigation of a participant, except as authorized by a court order for good cause.

874.422 Limitation of Confidentiality

If an employee who is an EAP counseling participant reveals the commission or intended commission of serious criminal activity, the EAP counselor is not prohibited from disclosing that information so long as the employee is not identified as an EAP counseling program participant. Con­fidentiality does not apply in any of the following cases:

a. A crime is committed on EAP premises or against EAP counselor personnel, or a threat to commit such a crime is made.

b. Incidents occur in which information must be report­ed as required by state law; for example, mandatory reporting of child abuse and/or neglect (and elder/spouse abuse in some states).

c. For a disclosure that may be required by elements of the criminal justice system because they have re­ferred employees who are EAP participants.

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We will incorporate the complete text of this revision into the next printed version of the ELM and into the online update available on the Postal Service PolicyNet website:

n Go to http://blue.usps.gov.

n Under “Essential Links” in the left-hand column, click PolicyNet.

n On the PolicyNet page, click Manuals.

(The direct URL for the Postal Service PolicyNet website is http://blue.usps.gov/cpim.)